Anthrax Attacks, Biological
Terrorism and Preventive
John Parachini
November 2001
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Testimony of John Parachini
Policy Analyst
RAND Washington Office
Before the Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government
November 6, 2001
The opinions and conclusions expressed in this written testimony are the author’s
alone and should not be interpreted as representing those of RAND or any of the
sponsors of its research.
Anthrax Attacks, Biological Terrorism and Preventive Responses
Statement of John Parachini
Policy Analyst
RAND Washington Office
Thank you, Madam Chair, for the privilege and opportunity to testify before the
Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. Information
about the quality of the anthrax used in the letter sent to Senator Daschle indicates a
potentially significant paradigm shift in the scope and magnitude of the bioterrorism
threat. My remarks will focus on the potential perpetrator of the recent anthrax attacks.
Examining who is behind these attacks provides a current case study to review the threat
of bioterrorism. In my opinion, bioterrorism includes any organization, even a state, or
individual who seeks to terrorize, incapacitate or kill with disease and biological material.
In conclusion, I will review some preventive measures that aim to diminish the
proliferation of biological agents to states and terrorists.
The sophisticated quality of the Anthrax used in the letter sent to Senator Daschle
suggests that the bioterrorism threat has reached a new level previously viewed by many
analysts, myself included, as possible, but unlikely. At the moment, this new level of
threat is manageable, but we must take into account the profound implications of this
shift if we are to devise effective preventive and protective policies.
There are at least three possible explanations for the origins of the sophisticated
Anthrax contained in the letter sent to Senator Daschle; all of them have heretofore been
considered possible, but unlikely. First, these attacks could be the clandestine act of a
state either rolling towards wider conflict or secretly inflicting harm because it believes it
can do so without detection and attribution. Second, a state could have engaged a
terrorist group to conduct the attack or provided the material to a sub-national entity for
its own purposes. Third, a terrorist group or individual could have produced this
sophisticated quality of anthrax itself or received assistance from scientists willing to sell
their expertise. All of these three explanations represent a break with the historical
The historical data set of biological weapons use by states or terrorists, covertly or
overtly, is very limited. 1 Given our potential vulnerabilities, it is a small wonder that
states and terrorists have not used disease more often. Understanding why the use of
biological weapons has been so infrequent may constructively focus our examination of
the current anthrax attacks on measures to reduce the possibility of other attacks in the
When it comes to the feasibility of using biological weapons, states are most
likely to have the resources, technical capabilities, and organizational capacity to
assemble the people, know-how, material, and equipment to produce such weapons and
to be able to clandestinely deliver them to valued targets. Mustering the resources and
capabilities to inflict a devastating blow with biological agents has proven to be a
formidable task even for states.
The quality of the anthrax sent to the U.S. Senate reportedly has characteristics
generally associated with state biological weapons programs. Clandestine use of a
biological agent by a state against the United States has traditionally been viewed as
highly unlikely. Fear of devastating retaliation is generally believed to deter states from
conducting such attacks. Retaliation would potentially be devastating because some uses
of some biological agents can serve as strategic weapons. For example, wide dispersal of
For an insightful discussion of the history of weapons of mass destruction and their use by states and
terrorists see, David Rapoport, “Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse,” National Security Studies
Quarterly, Vol. V, No. 3, (Summer).
anthrax that could be aerosolized or strategic distribution of an infectious agent such as
smallpox or plague could produce significant casualties and greatly disrupt life in
America. Conventional wisdom is that states might use a biological weapon like anthrax
as a weapon, but only as a last resort.
The United States and the former Soviet Union dedicated considerable national
defense resources to their biological weapons programs, and both countries encountered
significant difficulties along the way. Iraq also dedicated considerable resources to its
biological weapons program; although Iraq’s effort was more successful than most
experts imagined possible, it still encountered a number of significant challenges. A
state’s ability to command resources and organize them for certain priority scientific and
industrial objectives presents the potential for the greatest threat of bioterrorism. Given
advances in biological sciences and the plethora of information made public about
biological weapons in the last five years, other countries may have learned how to
produce Anthrax with sophisticated properties.
However, there are three circumstances when a state might clandestinely wage
biological terrorism. First, a state struggling for its existence might be willing to use
biological weapons clandestinely as a means to forestall or to prevent imminent defeat.
There is no historical example of a state responding with a biological weapon in a
moment of desperate struggle for its existence, but it is conceivable.
While the Taliban government of Afghanistan might be an example of a
government in danger of being eliminated, the anthrax attacks started before the United
States commenced military operations. Even the logic that a desperate government such
as the Taliban or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein might lash out against the United States as a
desperate move seems improbable. The best the clandestine state attacker could hope for
would be to inflict a large number of casualties and to avoid discovery. A successful
state biological weapons strike, clandestinely delivered against the United States, might
cause many casualties, but it would not lead to the end of the American form of
government or ensure the conquest of American territory. Short of a barrage attack of
ballistic missiles, the U.S.’s ability to reconstitute itself remains robust. Even a
significant clandestine biological strike on a major city would not topple the system of
government in the United States. Thus, the inherent limits of hiding a significant attack
constrain the realm of the possible.
Second, if a state felt it could attack with biological weapons and be undetected, it
might do so. In the twentieth century, there are only two significant examples of states
using biological agents clandestinely except during times of war. For example, in the
First World War, Germany sought to disrupt allied logistical capabilities by infecting
horses with glanders.2 The other case involves Japanese use of biological agents during
its occupation of China. Only during wartime have states conducted indiscriminate
attacks with biological weapons. In the few instances, the attacked state did not have the
ability to respond with devastating force. Given the long and powerful reach of modern
states, it is hard to imagine a state risking the political and military consequences of
A third situation when a state might engage in biological terrorism would be if it
attacked its own citizens. In the 1980s, both the Bulgarian and the South African
governments used biological materials to kill domestic political opponents. South Africa
had a significant clandestine chemical and biological program that supported a major
effort against regime opponents. Little is known about the Bulgarian program, but
government operatives are believed to have assassinated a Bulgarian dissident in London
with the toxin ricin, which they received from the Soviet KGB. Both of these cases
entailed discriminate uses of biological weapons. Aside from state assassinations of
regime opponents, states have been extremely reluctant to use biological weapons.
Mark Wheelis, “Biological sabotage in World War I,” in Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research,
Development and Use from the Middle Ages to 1945, Edited by Erhard Geissler and John Ellis van
Courtland Moon, SIPRI Chemical & Biological Warfare Studies No. 18, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University
Press), pp. 35-61.
If the current anthrax attacks are the work of a state, this suggests that states might
use biological weapons for non-strategic purposes. That is, the current anthrax attacks
could be the work of a state that wished to inflict revenge on the United States. The state
would not seek to conquer the territory of the United States or end the American system
of government. The Iraqi government is one that comes readily to mind as a state that
might have this motive. The United States defeated Iraq in military battle and killed
many of its military personnel and civilians. But this is a theoretical explanation. Yet, at
the moment, there is no evidence positively linking Iraq to the spate of attacks.
Other than the quality of the anthrax sent to the U.S. Senate and inferences one
might draw about grievances other states hold against the United States, there is no
evidence at the moment that a state is the perpetrator. It is imaginable that we are at the
start of a war and another state is clandestinely attacking with anthrax as a diversion.
Similarly, it is imaginable that the state perpetrating these attacks is willing to take great
risks. And finally, it is imaginable, that a state is attacking the United States with anthrax
as a trial to see how we respond. All of these scenarios are possible, but there is no
evidence supporting them at the moment. Until additional evidence becomes available,
state conduct of these attacks is highly unlikely.
While states can amass the resources and capabilities to wage biological terrorism,
considerable disincentives keep them from doing so. A state that undertakes a
clandestine attack using biological weapons risks the prospect of the attack being traced
back to them. The response to an attack with biological weapons could be devastating,
which gives states reason for caution.
An alternative possibility is that a state has provided this sophisticated anthrax to
a terrorist group. The terrorist group is either serving as a surrogate for a state or a state
is transferring biological weapons to a terrorist group for its own purposes. Both
possibilities have heretofore been viewed as unlikely.
There are no widely agreed upon historical examples in the open source literature
of states providing sub-national groups with biological weapons for overt or covert use.
Money, arms, logistical support, training, and even training on how to operate in a
chemically contaminated environment are all forms of assistance states have provided to
terrorists. But historically they have not crossed the threshold and provided biological
weapons materials to insurgency groups or terrorist organizations. State sponsors have a
great incentive to control the activities of the groups they support, because they fear that
retaliation may be directed against them if they are connected to a group that used
biological weapons. Even if states sought to perpetrate biological attacks for their own
purposes, they would probably not trust such an operation to groups or individuals that
they do not completely control.
Some argue that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is the type of state that might cross this
threshold.3 In the case of Iraq, the leadership would probably make the decision to
undertake such a risky operation. In most countries in an adversary relationship with the
U.S. what is more likely than a conscious decision by a country’s command authority is
that an unauthorized faction within a state might take it upon itself to use a sub-national
group to do its dirty work. The alleged involvement of the Iranian government security
services in the attack on American military personnel in Khobar Towers seems to be an
example of this type of involvement. Thus, while the probability of states using subnational groups or individuals to perpetrate a biological warfare attack on its behalf seems
low, it is not zero.
Meetings between some of the September 11th terrorists and Iraqi intelligence
Laurie Myroie, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War against America, (Washington,
DC: The AEI Press), 2000. See also Laurie Myroie, “The Iraqi Connection”, The Wall Street Journal,
September 13, 2001, p. A20. For an alternative view of Iraqi involvement in the 1993 bombing see John
Parachini, “The World Trade Center Bombers (1993),” in Jonathan B. Tucker, ed., Terror: Assessing
Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000).
operatives raise the questions whether Iraq or a faction within the Iraqi intelligence
service is involved. Thus far, there is no publicly available evidence linking Iraq to the
September 11th terrorists or linking the September 11th terrorists to the anthrax attacks.
However, the contact between the Iraqis and the terrorists is suspicious. Ongoing U.S.
enforcement of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq may cause Saddam Hussein to
view his state in perpetual war with America. Given the dictatorial fashion in which
Hussein rules the country, it is hard to imagine a rogue element within the Iraqi
government acting without his knowledge and approval. Furthermore, the enforcement
of the no-fly zones does not present an imminent challenge to the survival of the Iraqi
regime. Thus, until new evidence becomes available, the contacts and the timing of the
anthrax attacks remain suspicious, but provide no smoking gun.
Sub-national groups or individuals can develop or acquire their own biological
weapons capabilities for clandestine use, but it is not easy. Terrorist groups and
individuals historically have not employed biological weapons because of a combination
of formidable barriers to acquisition and use and comparatively readily available
alternatives and disincentives. Procurement of materials and recruitment of people with
skills and know-how are formidable barriers. Even if some of the materials and
production equipment are procurable for legitimate scientific or industrial purposes,
handling virulent biological materials and fashioning them into weapons capable of
producing mass casualties is beyond the reach of most sub-national groups or individuals.
In the last twenty years, there are only two significant cases of sub-national
groups using or attempting to use biological weapons and a few cases where groups or
individuals made efforts to acquire biological materials. In 1984, the Rajneeshees, a
religious cult group located in Oregon, sought to win a local election by running its own
candidates and intentionally poisoning local townspeople who they expected would vote
against them.4 Using their medical clinics, cult members ordered a variety of bacterial
cultures from the American Type Culture Collection located in Maryland. They
contaminated ten salad bars with a strain of salmonella, sickening at least 751 people.
They used commercially available biological agents to incapacitate people clandestinely,
because it was important for them to avoid attracting attention. The intentional character
of the outbreak was not recognized for over a year, when members of the cult revealed
details about the attacks to authorities in exchange for lighter sentences stemming from
other charges.
The other case occurred more than ten years later, when another religious cult, a
Japanese group called the Aum Shinrikyo, sought to develop and deliver biological
agents against a number of targets. The Aum’s unsuccessful attempts at biological
terrorism came to light after it released liquid sarin on the Tokyo subway.
The cult’s leader Shoko Asahara wrote songs about sarin. In addition to this
pernicious obsession, Aum leaders had delusions of grandeur that far exceeded reality.
They imagined a world they sought to create that was not constrained by the world in
which they lived. To bring this imaginary world into being, they sought weapons they
believed might trigger an apocalypse from which they would emerge as a dominant
power. Aum leaders may have deluded themselves into thinking that their organization
was a government and military-in-waiting, and hence, seeking to acquire weapons it
believed states possessed seemed legitimate. Instead of seeking lower-grade pathogens,
Aum sought pathogens that are generally associated with military biological weapons
programs. Aum exhibited this unique combination of obsession, delusions of grandeur,
and belief in an apocalypse they could launch that would enable them to reign like leaders
of a state.
W. Seth Carus, “The Rajneeshees (1984),” pp. 115-137, in Jonathan B. Tucker, ed., Toxic Terror:
Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press,
2000). See also, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William Broad, Germs: Biological Weapons and
America’s Secret War, (New York, NY: Simon & Shuster), pp. 15-33.
In the years since the attack, fears that the Aum attempt to acquire and use
biological weapons heralded a new age in such terrorism have been a constant refrain.
Yet so much about the Aum is so unique that it is hard to imagine it ever being repeated.
Japanese law enforcement authorities tend to make arrests only when they have an
ironclad case against the perpetrator of a crime. There were several incidents prior to the
March 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway that in retrospect should have raised
suspicion. Additionally, Japanese legal provisions protecting religious organizations
from intense government scrutiny inhibited authorities from intervening until long after
the group committed a number of heinous acts. The Aum leadership presents another
anomaly. Shoko Asahara, Aum’s leader, was a controlling leader with an obsession with
poisons. He wrote songs in praise of sarin. He also greatly admired another mass
poisoner, Adolph Hitler. The leadership mindset of Aum explains a great deal about the
group’s use of unconventional weapons. They were fascinated by the means to
catalyzing an apocalypse more than they were fascinated by killing large numbers of
people. In contrast, Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, and Mohammed Atta were
determined to kill large numbers of people and the means to do so was merely
Two aspects of the Aum biological weapons experience deserve special note when
considering the threat of biological terrorism. Aum’s global effort to procure biological
materials for its nefarious purposes deserves much greater examination. While there is no
open source information indicating that the Aum obtained any radiological, biological, or
chemical materials in Russia, it certainly tried. That the group tried and succeeded in
getting meetings with Russian scientists, some of whom had weapons expertise, is
Aum members also traveled to Zaire believing they could obtain samples of the
Ebola virus. There is no evidence to indicate that they were successful in their venture.
What may have inspired their trip was a newspaper account of a Japanese tourist who
developed a hemorrhagic fever after returning from a game safari in Africa. In fact,
during period when Aum members traveled to Zaire there were no reported outbreaks of
Ebola. Aum was trying to obtain biological material from infected people or corpses for
weapons purposes. This highlights a very different source of material than the weapons
laboratories of the former Soviet Union. It is probably easier to monitor scientific
institutes that were once or are currently affiliated with weapons programs than it is to
monitor the sites of deadly disease outbreaks that occur around the globe. Some thought
and attention needs to be given to how natural disease outbreaks might be exploited for
pernicious purposes.
While recent reports do suggest that we need to adjust our perspective of the
bioterrorism threat, we should not lose sight of the scope and magnitude of the tragic
events on September 11th and a number of other mass casualty terrorist attacks in the
1990s that involved conventional explosives, not nuclear, biological or chemical
weapons. Amidst the evolving bioterrorism threat it is difficult to keep perspective on the
relative dangers different terrorist attacks pose. Critical to our thwarting the designs of
the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks and succeeding in the campaign of civilized society
against barbarism is putting dangers into perspective and calibrating our actions
In these uncertain times, it is important to maintain some perspective of the
relative dangers. Despite the recent anthrax attacks, the history of biological warfare,
terrorism, and crime is still much less deadly than that of the history with conventional
explosives. While history is not a perfect guide to the future, it does provide a context for
our thinking.
Since the future is impossible to see clearly, we must anticipate a number of
possible scenarios. We need to take account of history and hedge against imponderables
of the future. Although the prospects of a major biological terrorist attack are remote,
small-scale biological attacks are much more likely. In this light, the challenge before the
government is how to put relative dangers in proper perspective and yet still hedge
against future eventualities that are unlikely, but possible.
The use of disease and biological material as a weapon is not a new method of
warfare. What is surprising is how infrequently it is has been used. Biological agents
may appeal to the new terrorist groups because they affect people indiscriminately and
unnoticed, thereby sowing panic. A pattern is emerging that terrorists who perpetrate
mass and indiscriminate attacks do not claim responsibility.5 In contrast to the turgid
manifestos issued by terrorists in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, recent mass casualty
terrorists have not claimed responsibility until they were imprisoned. Biological agents
enable terrorists to preserve their anonymity because of their delayed impact and can be
confused with natural disease outbreaks. Instead of the immediate gratification of seeing
an explosion or the glory of claiming credit for disrupting society, the biological weapons
terrorist may derive satisfaction from seeing society’s panicked response to their actions.
If this is the case, this is a new motive for the mass casualty terrorist.
There are a number of countervailing disincentives for states and terrorists to use
biological weapons, which help explain why their use is so infrequent. The technical and
operational challenges biological weapons pose are considerable. Acquiring the material,
skills of production, knowledge of weaponization, and successfully delivering the
weapon, to the target is difficult. In cases where the populations of the terrorist
supporters and adversaries are mixed, biological weapons risk inadvertently hitting the
same people for whom terrorists claim to fight. Terrorists may also hesitate in using
biological weapons specifically because breaking the taboo on their use may evoke
considerable retaliation. The use of disease as a weapon is widely recognized in most
Bruce Hoffman, “Why Terrorists Don’t Claim Credit,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 9, 1
(Spring 1997), pp. 1-6.
cultures as a means of killing that is beyond the bounds of a civilized society.
From a psychological perspective, terrorists may be drawn to explosives as
arsonists are drawn to fire. The immediate gratification of explosives and the thrill of the
blast may meet a psychological need of terrorists that the delayed effects of biological
weapons do not. Causing slow death of others may not offer the same psychic thrill
achieved by killing with firearms or explosives.
Perhaps the greatest alternative to using biological weapons is that terrorists can
inflict (and have inflicted) many more fatalities and casualties with conventional
explosives than with unconventional weapons. Biological weapons present technical and
operational challenges that determined killers may not have the patience to overcome or
they may simply concentrate their efforts on more readily available alternatives.
Putting aside the spectacular quality of the Aum subway attack with liquid sarin,
far fewer people died or were injured than in similarly spectacular attacks with
explosives. In comparison to the bombings of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma
City, the Khobar Towers military barracks in Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, fewer people died as a result of the sarin release. In comparison
with the recent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Tokyo subway
incident, though clearly tragic, was simply an event of much smaller scale.
But even if the possibility of a catastrophic biological weapons attack is remote,
government has a responsibility to do all that it can to prevent, protect against, and
respond to events that seem unlikely. The challenge is to determine how much to prepare
for a low-probability, albeit potentially catastrophic attack, while at the same time,
guarding against not focusing enough on more probable events with significant, but not
necessarily catastrophic, consequences.
The recent anthrax attacks highlight a number of improvements the United States
needs to undertake in order to better protect its citizenry against bioterrorism. The
positive side of these frightening attacks is that they are forcing an upgrade of our
capabilities to handle bioterrorism. I will focus most of my remarks on some long-term
preventive tools. In the fight against bioterrorism, a full set of tools will be needed
because there are no silver bullet solutions to the threat. The tools I discuss below
complement others in the fields of intelligence, law enforcement, counter-proliferation,
medical diagnostics and forensics, and disease surveillance, to name just a few.
Preventive nonproliferation measures can form the basis for a frontline of defense
against attacks with biological weapons. After attack response is important because it can
help limit the loss of life, destruction of property and political implications of an attack.
However, after attack measures are not a substitute for preventive and preemptive
measures. Completely eliminating the possibility of an attack with unconventional
weapons is probably not possible, but reducing the opportunity for states and sub-national
groups to acquired unconventional weapons is possible.
The United States rejected the text resulting from several years of negotiations
toward a draft protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) as unsatisfactory
for the task: preventing the proliferation of biological weapons.6 The challenge for the
Bush administration is to reinforce the normative prohibition against biological inscribed
in the BWC and at the same time propose measures that genuinely strike at the long-term
problem of biological weapons proliferation to states and sub-national entities.
States trying to strengthen the BWC will meet this month, and the Bush
administration will need to describe measures that the international community should
Statement by Ambassador Donald Mahley to the Ad Hoc Group of Biological Weapons Convention State
Parties, July 25, 2001.
consider to counter the biological weapons proliferation problem. Given the events in the
United States, the timing of a constructive international discussion could not be better.
There are three tools the international community should consider that address the
problem of biological weapons that could form the basis for a new international approach
to biological weapons proliferation. One portion of the rejected draft protocol that
warrants consideration outside the context of the negotiations is the guidance on
investigations of unusual outbreaks of disease.7 Early detection of unusual outbreaks of
disease, rapid communication of a diagnosis, communication of the diagnosis to public
health authorities and delivery of appropriate antibiotics, can save many lives and turn a
potentially large outbreak into a manageable incident.8
These investigations do not necessarily require a new international agency like a
Biological Weapons Convention Organization (BWCO). The Conventional Forces in
Europe (CFE) treaty provides one example of how a grouping of states could investigate
agreed upon problems such as suspicious outbreaks. The findings of experts from
regional groupings of states could be reported to the UN Security Council, the World
Health Organization, an existing multilateral security organization in the region of the
outbreak, and the individual states in the region of the outbreak.
Another option is described in a UN General Assembly mandate providing the
UN Secretary General with powers to investigate alleged use of chemical and biological
weapons. This provision permits the UN Secretary General to dispatch a group of
qualified experts to conduct an investigation and report back to the General Secretariat or
the UN Security Council. This model was outlined in the UN General Assembly under
its resolution 42/37C in November 1988.9 In October 1989 a group of experts provided a
Michael Moodie, “The BWC Protocol: A Critique,” CBACI Special Report 1, June 2001, pp. 28-29.
Jonathan B. Tucker, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services,
Education, and Relation Agencies of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Improving Infections
Disease Surveillance to Combat Bioterrorism and Natural Emerging Infections, October 3, 2001,
(http://www.cns.miis.edu/research/cbw/testtuck.htm) (Viewed on October 9, 2001).
Draft Report of the World Health Organization on Chemical and Biological Weapons.
report on how investigations of alleged use might be conducted. Even if these
investigations do not discover clandestine weapons programs, they will make a
contribution to international public health. Enhanced monitoring of global disease
outbreaks provides both a public health benefit and a security benefit. Thus, for every
dollar or yen invested, there is a clear public health benefit and a potential security
A new global effort must be made to stop the proliferation of dangerous
pathogens to irresponsible states, organization and individuals. There are almost 100
culture collections in the United States and more than 450 collections around the world.
The U.S. improved its system in 1995 after an individual with ties to anti-government
groups fraudulently sought disease cultures from a culture collection, but it still may
require further improvements.10 A national baseline of where dangerous pathogens are
currently located needs to be established. Additionally, a national registry should be
established that lists all the scientists who are working with such pathogens. It is
frightening to note what little regulation other countries have governing the transfer,
storage, and use of dangerous pathogens.
The international community must strive to strike a balance between pathogen
commerce for legitimate commercial and scientific purposes and preventing the transfer
of deadly materials to people who will use them as weapons. The combination of
national export controls and the Australia Group coordination is simply not sufficient for
regulating commerce in pathogen samples. Many countries with culture collection do not
participate in the Australia Group. Similarly, national laws governing exports of
biological materials vary tremendous from country to country, and not all of them meet
model international standards. New standards that are more universal in character and
more appropriate to the commodity in question are needed.
Jessica Eve Stern, “Larry Wayne Harris,” in Jonathan B. Tucker (ed.), Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist
Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000)
Finally, the current international legal regime system is inadequate for the current
crisis in part because it focuses on the activities of states and not sub-national groups.
While the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) does require each state party to pass
and to implement national legislation penalizing individuals and companies that violate
the provisions that apply to the state, many countries remain in technical violation of this
requirement. Less than half of the CWC state parties have drafted implementing
legislation, which is a troubling example of technical non-compliance.11 Additionally,
among the countries that have enacted legislation, the issue of penal legislation has been
inadequately addressed. The international community must urge CWC state parties to
pass the required domestic legislation. This is one of those small, but important aspects
of treaty implementation that the international community has not adequately addressed
in an era when there is more attention paid to negotiations.
The Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation has
proposed an international accord criminalizing possession, transfer and use of chemical
and biological weapons by individuals. In essence, this draft convention provides the
international legal framework to prosecute anyone, from the terrorist to the head of state,
who uses chemical or biological weapons. The initiative seeks to fill a gap in existing
international legal framework.
As the international community considers this valuable stopgap measure it also
needs to consider how to ensure effective implementation. National governments need to
provide adequate financial and law enforcement resources to make this convention
meaningful. More treaties need to be complemented by the law enforcement capabilities
sufficient to apprehend chemical and biological weapons terrorists and the political will
to prosecute them to the fullest extent. Far too often the international community and
national government bless unfunded mandates and expect results.
Barry Kellman, “National Legislation to Implement Legal Assistance and Cooperation, International
Symposium: Cooperation and Legal Assistance for the Effective Implementation of International
Agreements, The Hague, Netherlands, February, 2001. See also, Barry Kellman, “WMD Proliferation: An
International Crime? The Nonproliferation Review, vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 2001.
The recent anthrax attacks represent a fundamental shift in the nature of the
biological terrorism threat. Fortunately, the scope and magnitude of this shift is far less
devastating than the events of September 11th. As we face this new phase of biological
weapons terrorism, it is important to maintain perspective even though the ability of the
perpetrator of the anthrax attacks to terrorize the country is distressing. Fortunately, there
have been comparatively few casualties. These attacks should serve to spur government
action on a number of fronts to strengthen our national ability to prevent the proliferation
of biological weapons, deny and dissuade states and sub-national groups from using
them, and develop rapid means to detect an attack and track down the perpetrator should
preemptive and preventive measures fail.